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John Gavin: Former Actor and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

Updated on January 29, 2019
John Gavin as Destry (1964)
John Gavin as Destry (1964) | Source

Destry, where will you ride tomorrow?

What will your legend say?

Will it become a man on the run,

A place in the sun,

Or a drifter who passed this way? . . . Destry . . .

None of the above! John Anthony Golenor's (Gavin's) legend became that of a U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Who would think that the role of a western cowboy would result in such a status?

Interestingly, the appointment to the position was by former President Ronald Reagan, who himself had been an actor, a career that requires the ability to memorize lines and create an emotional appearance as the situation demands--and today's career counselors advocate avoiding Fine Arts as a career path! Math and Science aren't the stuff of which most politicians are made; representatives in government are people-oriented.

Did John Gavin rest his laurels on his acting credits to gain the position of ambassador? A closer look at his background may yield an answer to this question.

Gavin's Stanford Education

St. John's Military Academy and an honor graduate in Latin-American Economic History from Stanford? Not your typical actor's choice of schooling. Universal Studios somehow caught onto Golenor's looks and offered him a contract for his 1956 debut in acting.

Author's note: This actor-ambassador should not be confused with other five persons bearing the same name, i.e.a Scottish comedian, an Irish footballer (1928-2007), an Australian film director (1935-1938), an Australian convict (1829-1844), and a fictional character on the television series 'Rescue Me.'

Roles of John Gavin in the Entertainment Industry

Name of Work
Abner Biberman
Tom Tully
Behind the High Wall
Douglas Sirk
Liselotte Pulver
A Time to Love and a Time to Die
Douglas Sirk
Imitation of Life
Alfred Hitchcock
Anthony Perkins
Stanley Kubrick
Kirk Douglas
David Miller
Susan Hayward
Back Street
television series
Gene Nelson, et al.
Chris Alcaide, et al.
television series
Abner Biberman, et al.
Horst Ebersberg, et al.
musical production (baritone vocal)
Word Baker
The Fantasticks
Broadway production
Michael Bennett
Michele Lee
TV mini-series
Edward M. Abroms, et al.
Nelson D. Cuevas
Doctors' Private Lives
*According to IMdb, Gavin sang baritone in The Fantasticks, an original off-broadway production that opened in 1960. The years 1970 had three productions: Purlie, Applause, and Company; however, Gavin's name does not appear among the casts.
Gavin as Julius Caesar in the movie Spartacus.
Gavin as Julius Caesar in the movie Spartacus.


I didn't have an inkling they would be classics. Had I realized that, perhaps I would have paid more attention.

--John Gavin about Psycho and Spartacus.


Author's note: The eBay version of Spartacus does not co-star John Gavin, but does convey a spirit and history of Kubrick's version.

Both Destry and Convoy were produced by companies that were subsidiaries of the Universal-M.C.A., Revue Studios and Universal TV, created by the legendary agent Lew Wasserman, who also influenced Ronald Reagan's movie, TV and political careers.Was Wasserman a coincidental tie to Reagan and Gavin in the political arena? It would seem so. As people say,"It's a small world."

Gavin's Family Background Leading to Ambassadorship

John Gavin's family includes both Spanish and Irish ancestry. Herald Ray Golenor, John's father contributed the Irish aspect of John's bloodline. The Golenors were Californian landowners when that part of the United States was ruled by the Spanish. Delia Diana Pablos, John's mother, was the offspring a well-to-do and influential Mexican family.

With this foundation, John later became fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. His fluency in the Spanish language and mother's family ties undoubtedly became important factors qualifying him for a future ambassadorship to Mexico.

How U.S. Ambassadors Are Picked, Types and Terms

Ambassadors are chosen by the President and approved by the Senate. If the appointment occurs while the Senate is out of session, the ambassador serves only to the end of the next session of Congress. Further duty is contingent upon confirmation by the Senate. Ambassadors can be dismissed by the President at any time.

There are two types of U.S. ambassadors: 1) a career-foreign-service officer or 2) a political appointee. The career-foreign-service officers generally serves for three years at a foreign post. Political appointees resign when a new President is inaugurated.

U.S. embassies are under the jurisdiction of the Department of State, and ambassadors report to the Secretary of State.

Ideal Qualities of an Ambassador

  • good communication skills
  • a good listener
  • a sense of fairness
  • honest and truthful
  • a basic understanding of national policies for the subject country
  • an understanding of the culture of the subject country
  • preferably fluency of the language of subject country
  • willingness to travel
  • a team-player with an ability to lead
  • dependable with good follow-through

Other U.S. Actors-Entertainers Who Served in Politics (alphabetical by surname)

How Best Known
Political Focus
Year(s) of Service
Carlos Alan Autry (Brown)
TV series: In the Heat of the Night
Mayor, Fresno CA
P. T. Barnum
circus impressario
Bridgeport Mayor; State Legislator CT
Shirley Temple Black
child actor
U.N. Delegate, Ambassador to Ghana, White House Protocol; Ambassador to Czechoslovakia
1969. 1974-76, 1989-92, 1976-77, 1989-92
Sonny Bono
Mayor, Palm Springs CA; House of Representatives
1988-92; 1994-98
Clint Eastwood
Movie: Dirty Harry
Mayor, Carmel CA
Fred Grandy
TV sitcom: The Love Boat
Iowa Congressman
Ben Jones
TV series: The Dukes of Hazzard (Cooter Davenport)
U.S. Representative GA
Sheila Kuehl
child actor: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillies
CA Assembly and State Senator; Candidate LA Co. Supervisor
1994-2000; 2000-08; 2014
Nancy Kulp
TV series: The Beverly Hillbillies (Miss Hathaway)
Democratic State Committee and Candidate for House of Representatives PA
George Murphy
dancer-actor: Little Miss Broadway
Senator (CA)
Ronald Reagan
TV episodes: General Electric Theater
Governor CA; U.S. President
1967-75; 1981-89
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Movie: The Terminator
Governor CA
Fred Thompson
Movie: In the Line of Fire
U.S. Senator TN
Ralph Waite
TV series: The Waltons (father)
Candidate U.S. Representative CA (3x) and Candidate Democratic Party Presidential Nomination
1990 (1x), 1992 (D pres. nom. candidate), 1998 (2x)
Although running for a political office is not actually a service, I did include this information because it reflects the actor's interest.

The Final Act

While John Gavin had the "good looks" for an acting career, his degree focus and military service suggested his true goals. (Service in the military was apparent in a few of the other actor-entertainers who became involved in politics, as well; whereas, an equally few number of entertainer-politicians served as president to the Screen Actors' Guild, namely George Murphy and Ronald Reagan, in addition to Gavin.)

Whether Wasserman was the key figure in suggesting Gavin to President Reagan as an ambassador to Mexico or whether Reagan had met Gavin without an introduction or recommendation from Wasserman is a subject for research. In the United States, the "land of opportunity," it seems anything is possible if one with a desire applies himself. Of course, there are no guarantees, but hope is high among Americans for progress relative to other peoples around the world.

Your Show

Do you think that Producer Wasserman was a major influence in Gavin fulfilling his goal to be an ambassador?

See results

Do you think people in the dramatic arts make good politicians?

See results

Credits and Resources (Bio) (Gavin's Movie Roles) (Tom Ball, et al. 2004 -Actor Politicians Table Info) (Sheila's Political Career for Table) (Photo of Gavin as Julius Caesar)

© 2014 Marie Flint


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    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      I wish to thank Sharma Roshan for reading this hub article about John Gavin. Although not posted here, his comment is appreciated.

      Key words in his comment: "beautiful article" and "great skill." ***

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      5 years ago from Cape Cod

      Very fine work on this piece. Jessie 'the Body' Ventura and Al Franken are two other entertainers/politicos who come to mind.

    • Solaras profile image

      Barbara Fitzgerald 

      5 years ago from Georgia

      Really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Thank you so much, billybuc, for stopping by and commenting. Frankly, I don't remember when I learned he had become an ambassador--well, it had to be during the Reagan administration, and it was probably on the televised news.

      The only thing I had watched him in prior to writing this hub was as Destry. I was excited at first when CONVOY televised, but I couldn't get into the story line. I guess I'm just not Navy material, although I did occasionally enjoy the comedy of MCHALE'S NAVY, and I loved watching Jacques Cousteau and the voyages of the Calypso.

      What really interested me in this ambassadorship angle was the role of ambassadors. I knew Shirley Temple Black had been one--what was this with performers becoming ambassadors? Acting, in my book, is hardly a prerequisite for serious politics.

      John Gavin, however, seems to be an exception to my rule book. A degree in Latin American Economics is hardly a prerequisite for acting! He had a certain charisma, though, along with his good looks. In listening to his lecture at Ashbrook Center, Ohio, I experienced his wit, his knowledge of Mexico, and his sincerity. If you care to listen to the YouTube 28-minute video, the URL is


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I remember him well and had no idea he ended up being an ambassador. Very interesting.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Thank you, Cecile, for the read and comment. I was also unaware of how many entertainers became involved in politics. Sonny Bono came as a surprise.

      Have a great day!

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 

      5 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Hi Marie:

      Very interesting article on John Gavin. I was unaware that so many entertainers served in politics.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      Thank you, Jodah, Erik, and Examiner. Comments always help me take another look at a published hub, and I actually corrected four typos as the result (my eyes do get tired).

      I spent a fair amount of time on this one, almost deleted it, took a week off, then finally finished it. I thought the angle of ambassadorship was interesting enough to warrant a finish.

      I especially appreciate the votes and the share.

      Blessings to you all!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      That was interesting Marie. Since I am not much into politics I could not vote in the polls but I recognize John Gavin from the screen. Thumbs up and shared.


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Great article. Thank you I learned a lot about Gavin.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Interesting hub Marie. I remember Destry, but only just. John Gavin is a very handsome man, good actor and obviously had the right qualifications for ambassador to Mexico.

    • Marie Flint profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Flint 

      5 years ago from Tawas City, Michigan USA

      All right, I confess. I had a puppy-love fascination with this actor when he appeared on television as Destry (I can still sing the theme song, by the way). I had no idea he had done so much in film making, let alone that he sang baritone!

      The appearance of some actors or actresses in the political arena (Reagan being the most notable) is interesting.

      In researching this hub, I learned a little about the socio-politics of Mexico. (I'm glad they're not in the nuclear arms race.)

      Thank you for reading my hub. ***


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